On Saturday he quickly seized the lead back from Rodgers and ran it up to two strokes. But up ahead of him things were happening, as both Sanders and Thomas, a strong English pro who is the longest hitter among his countrymen, moved into contention.
Nicklaus still held his two-stroke advantage at 11, where he had a seven-foot putt for a birdie. But from this short distance he three-putted. At the 13th he again three-putted. At the 14th he drove into a bunker for his third bogey in four holes. As he walked up the 15th fairway he was now tied at one under par with Sanders, who was about to finish with 283, and Thomas, who already had.
That was the last chance that Nicklaus gave Muirfield to ruffle him. "I decided that I had better start playing golf again," he said later. Two careful pars brought him to the 17th, one of those par-5s that can be reached in two, though nobody can reach it in two the way Nicklaus did. He hit his tee shot with a three-iron to keep it short of where the fairway really narrowed. Then he hit a 238-yard five-iron—that's right, a 238-yard five-iron—to within 15 feet of the hole. He missed his eagle putt but the birdie put him a stroke ahead, and he protected his lead on 18 by hitting everything from his one-iron off the tee to that final six-inch putt with all of the care that Muirfield had proved it deserved.
Jack's victory much pleased the British, who find him boyish and engaging, though there is ever the yearning among them to see an Englishman take the title again—none has in 15 years—and Thomas gave it an excellent try. In the circumstances, the British have come to enjoy the golf of their guests, and this year's foreign invasion of the islands had to go down as the most successful since 1066. Doug Sanders played the steadiest golf of the leaders, with rounds of 71, 70, 72, 70. Gary Player, who described his game as "rubbish," finished in a tie for fourth with two Australians—Kel Nagle and Bruce Devlin—and Phil Rodgers, who has always received far more notice among British galleries than he ever has at home.
And, of course, there was Arnold Palmer, a major center of attraction wherever he competes. As at San Francisco four weeks earlier, he was playing some of the finest golf of his career, but he was also digressing into some fearful errors. On Friday he took out his driver, began to attack the course, wind and all, and shot a 69. "I finally got sick of pitty-pattying the ball around all those curves and corners," he said. He stayed in contention until the 10th hole on the final day. There he drove into the rough and failed to get out until his fourth hacking swing. The triple bogey 7 ended his tournament, and he finished tied for eighth.
At the presentation ceremonies Saturday afternoon Jack Nicklaus was resplendent. His blond hair blew about, the color of it contrasting handsomely with the blue of his turtleneck jersey. He kissed his wife. He kissed the trophy. From their captain on down the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers smiled its approval of the new champion. And out across the countryside the wind off the Firth of Forth had Muirfield's hay waving. They'll probably cut it down this week. When they do they'll find a lot of golf balls. They might even find a golfer.